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Dr. William J. Shields House

Buildings: Sarasota History

Source: City of Sarasota public records
Credit: Sarasota History Alive!
Location: 3540 Almeria Avenue, Sarasota, FL

Sarasota History - Dr. William J. Shields House photo

Dr. William J. Shields House is a one story Spanish Eclectic Style bungalow with a detached two-car garage constructed in 1925 and located at 3540 Almeria Avenue in Granada Subdivision.

As part of the Florida Land Boom in Sarasota during the 1920s, Granada Subdivision was platted in 1924. All of the lots of the subdivision were platted for residential uses. In the mid 1920s, several single family dwellings with various styles of architecture, including Spanish and Craftsman Bungalows, were constructed. The design of the Spanish bungalows was harmonious with the subdivision's name as well as street names in the neighborhood, Flores, Fortuna, Jacinto, Bonita, Camino Real and Almeria. The entire project exemplifies the romantic Spanish Revival theme that was popular throughout Florida and California during the boom era of the 1920s.

The subdivision was founded and developed by Charles "Charley" Tyson. Tyson came to Sarasota from Tennessee in 1924 and bought acreage amid the cabbage scrub palmetto along (then) Siesta Boulevard, present Siesta Drive, between Osprey and the Siesta Bridge, and called it "Granada." Many people doubted the future of the project knowing Tyson had paid a substantial amount of money for the property. Ignoring skeptics,

"...he kept on sawing wood and developing, until Granada was a bee hive of energy, a picture of artistic merit, with a score of beautiful homes and broad boulevards in the making."

When Granada's original plans were drawn they included wide streets and a park with a Spanish style fountain. The park was identified on the original plat as "Bonita Park" at the center of the development and the construction of the park and its landscaping were one of the first improvements to be completed. The park was planned and executed as a focal point for the subdivision and is still in existence today. The fountain was designated an historic object by the City of Sarasota, following a petition by the Granada homeowners, in March 1994.

Beginning in early 1925, several homes were constructed in Granada by the Granada Development Company, headed by Charles Tyson, and over the next two years, approximately 20 homes were completed, also by the Granada Development Company, one of which is the subject structure. The house was completed in late 1925. Although the architect is unknown, Thomas Reed Martin, recognized as one of Sarasota's most important architects during the 1920s and 1930s, is believed to be responsible for the design of several of Granada's Spanish Eclectic Style bungalows. Martin, himself, built a home on the southern edge of the subdivision on Camino Real. Although altered, the house still exists. Martin's wife, Sadie W. Martin was a charter member of both the Granada League, a women's civic organization, and the first garden circle in Granada. Leadly Ogden was an important and extremely active builder in Sarasota during the 1920s. He and his firm were responsible for the construction of numerous boom times buildings in Sarasota and was also active in the building of homes in Granada, although the subject cannot be specifically documented as his work.

Dr. William J. Shields

Beginning in late 1927, the property was occupied as a rental by Dr. W.J. Shields. Shields was the "pioneering and beloved" physician for the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, beginning in 1918 and was considered the "dean of doctor troupers" until his death in 1933. He was a graduate of the Physicians and Surgeons' Hospital School in New York.

A recording of the role Dr. Shields and other physicians played in the circus is given in Fred Bradna and Harzell Spence's book The Big Top, My Forty Years with The Greatest Show on Earth:

"For many years, the Ringlings employed a physician to travel with the show, Probably the best-remembered one was Dr. Shields; in every town he posted a notice detailing what water supplies were potable and whether epidemics necessitated avoidance of certain districts in the city. The physician's best customers, it may surprise readers to learn, were not the performers, but the working crew that took upon the doctor's services. They regularly needed medical care for injuries caused by sledges, burned by guys or stoves, trampled by animals, cut by tools, or victimized by skin rashes.

The doctor gave little more than first aid. Having no X-ray machinery, he could not set fractures. All seriously broken bones, all cases of infection, even bad colds, which might develop into pneumonia, were committed to hospitals. When the circus moved, the sick were left behind to catch up later. Owing to drafty tents and lack of facilities to combat the cold and dampness, pneumonia once was the most prevalent circus ailment."

Dr. Shields was one of the circus executives first notified of John Ringling's intention to move the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus winter headquarters to Sarasota in 1926. With direction from John Ringling, the news came from Fred Bradna in Bridgeport, Connecticut. The move was not expected to be well received based on the fact that most of the circus executives and performers had established homes in Bridgeport. After the decision was made and announced, the circus arrived in Sarasota the following year on November 24, 1927. When the circus quarters were constructed near Fruitville Road and Beneva Road, the layout included a hospital building on the site for use by Dr. Shields and circus members in need of his care.

Shields was a kindly man and was loved and respected by the entire circus family. As the circus physician, Shields made his winter home in Sarasota until the winter of 1931. He died in Bedford, Ohio in June 1933. By 1936, when the addition of the "Florence Nightingale Car," designed by Samuel Gumpertz and constructed in the circus shops in Sarasota, was completed and added to the circus train, Shields had died. Dr. Joseph Bergin had taken his place with the circus.

Granada's Later Development

Following the collapse of the Florida Land Boom, Tyson's continued plans for Granada floundered, just as development in many of the other Boom Time subdivisions, but the push for completion of the planned community continued with newspaper advertisements attempting to lure new residents to the community. By 1930, The Sarasota City Directory contained no listing for Tyson, and he may have left the area. As an advertisement in the Sarasota Herald in the 1930s read:

"Let me suggest that you visit GRANADA, the socially approved South Side residential district near the lower bay and south beaches. All owner occupied homes. Visit VINELAND, residence of Thomas Reed Martin, local architect and see a natural tropical garden - one of Sarasota's outstanding private estates. Mr. Martin will be pleased to show you a beautiful home site adjoining VINELAND."

Although a visual inspection of the neighborhood reveals that a few houses were constructed in the 1930s, within the subdivision, it was not until after WWII that the Granada was for the most part finally and completely developed.

The Dr. William J.Shields House was locally designated by the City of Sarasota in 1994.